January 22nd, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Science and the Second Term

Hundreds of thousands of people descended on DC yesterday to celebrate President Obama’s second inauguration. Not surprisingly, science and research featured prominently in the President’s inaugural speech at the Capitol - firstly regarding climate change, saying “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms” and secondly regarding the importance of collective action, saying “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.” Of course these are simply words, but NEWScience Policy will keep you informed of major science policy developments as the President’s new term and the 113th Congress get started in earnest this week.

First on the agenda will be addressing the trifecta of sequestration, expiration of the FY 2013 continuing resolution, and the need to raise the debt limit which I discussed last week.  In response to this continued fiscal uncertainty, the Office of Management and Budget (the President’s bean counters) issued a memo to all federal agencies directing them to increase their planning related to potential reductions in spending. The memo covers lots of ground, but related to grants (including research grants) it directs agencies to “…review grants and contracts to determine where cost savings may be achieved in a manner that is consistent with the applicable terms and conditions, remaining mindful of the manner in which individual contracts or grants advance the core mission of the agency…”

Meanwhile, House Republicans appeared to do an about-face over the weekend as it relates to the debt ceiling. Up until their retreat late last week, their rhetoric generally focused on not allowing the debt limit to be raised without commensurate spending cuts, while the President insisted he would not negotiate on raising the debt limit. Coming out of the retreat, however, Politico reports that the House Republicans are ready to vote this week on a short-term deal that would extend the debt limit for 3 months. This would presumably allow Congress the space to address sequestration and pass legislation to keep the government funded beyond the end of March, but it is unclear at this point how the White House will react to this proposal.

Also of Note

Appointments. The Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey Marcia McNutt both announced last week that they would step down from their posts early in President Obama’s second term. These departures continue the trend of President Obama’s most senior environmental advisors leaving (the heads of EPA and NOAA announced their departures in recent weeks), and there is much speculation that Secretary of Energy Chu will also depart, but no official announcement has been made.

Education. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) celebrated the 40th anniversary of its prestigious AAAS Science & Technology Policy fellowships. This popular program provides opportunities for scientists to spend time working within Congressional offices and the Executive branch, and is a great opportunity for anyone with a doctoral level degree looking to get involved in policy!

Health. The NIH released a new document, NIH Policies and Procedures for Promoting Scientific Integrity,that compiles all their policies and procedures related to scientific research integrity into one place. Sally Rockey, Director of Extramural Research at NIH,  describes the document as “the first time consolidates this information from a diverse array of documents into a unified report that’s easily accessible to anyone interested in learning more about NIH research, even those new to working with or learning about NIH.”

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Ed Markey (D-MA), along with 31 co-sponsors, announced their intention to introduce a bill that “would lift the current prohibitions on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) from conducting research into firearms safety and gun violence,” which have been in place since 1996. The bill would codify a decision made by a recent Presidential executive order which directs HHS and the CDC to resume research related to gun violence. Although a prohibition on research related to gun control advocacy has been in place legislatively since 1996, the executive order appears to interpret the language to mean that research is not advocacy, and that it should continue.

Information Technology. The President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report entitled Designing a Digital Future: Federally Funded Research and Development in Networking and Information Technology. A White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog post about the report discusses both advances and needs in the world of networking and IT-related R&D.

Research. The House passed a $50.5 billion supplemental appropriations bill to help further recovery from Super Storm Sandy. Along with recovery programs, the bill (H.R. 152) includes funding for research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. The bill also includes funding to support repair of research-related infrastructure at NOAA, HHS, and NASA among others. Although the Senate passed a similar bill back in December, they will have to reconsider this bill now due to the new Congress.

The NSF released two brief reports related to the health of the U.S. R&D enterprise. The first finds that while spending on R&D increased slightly in FY 2010 and FY 2011, despite significant reductions in private sector R&D, this slight growth did not keep up with overall economic growth. The second finds that the total federal budget authority for R&D and R&D plant (i.e. infrastructure) declined in FY 2011 and FY 2012, in part due to reductions in defense R&D, but anticipates a slight increase in FY 2013.

Tech Transfer. The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) released their latest annual report, summarizing technology transfer activities at universities, hospitals and research institutions across the country for FY 2011. This report provides facts and figures related to commercialization, including the amount of royalties received through licensing of technologies ($1.5 billion) and the number of startup companies (1731) born out of university research.

In Print

In the Austin American-Statesman, Former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison urges the nation to Keep investing in science and technology. She argues that despite political divisions, “there is one issue on which there is consensus: science, technology, research, and higher education are invaluable investments in America’s — and Texas’ — future.”

Nature summarizes an interview with NIH Director Francis Collins focused on recent changes at NIH related to workforce development for early career scientists.

Kenneth Goodman of the University of Miami writes in Science Progress about Ethics, Science Funding, and the Fiscal Cliff, and particularly why the media has not highlighted the threat of sequestration on education and research accounts.

Steven Salzberg writes in Forbes about how Congress is Killing Medical Research and the effect that “budget limbo” has on biomedical research.

Lawrence M. Krauss writes in an op-ed in the New York Times entitled Deafness at Doomsday about the challenges scientists face in influencing global security policy.

Michael D. Purugganan of New York University writes in the Huffington Post about the risks of Sequestering Science.

A New York Times editorial entitled Stem Cell Research Gets a Reprieve discusses the recent decision by the Supreme Court not to consider a case seeking limitations on federal funding of stem cell research.

Dan Vergano wrote a piece in USA Today a few weeks ago entitled Physics labs face fiscal fireworks. This piece looks at how the nation’s physics labs are faring in these fiscally challenging times.

The American Institute of Physics’ FYI blog posted a summary of a recent House Space, Science, and Technology Committee hearing on recommendations in the recent Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society decadal survey, as well as a summary of authorization amounts for DoD R&D in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (1/22)

  • The House Education and Workforce committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Energy and Commerce committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Veterans Affairs committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Ways and Means committee will hold a hearing on the debt limit.

Wednesday (1/23)

  • The House Appropriations committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Homeland Security committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Natural Resources committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The House Small Business committee will hold an organizational meeting.
  • The new House Science and National Labs Caucus will hold its inaugural event, featuring Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
  • The House Research and Development Caucus and the Task Force on American Innovation and will host a Capitol Hill briefing on American Exceptionalism, American Decline? Research, the Knowledge Economy, and the 21st Century Challenge

Thursday (1/24)

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